Saturday’s Horse Racing Tips: Noble Yeats should relish three miles in the Cleeve Hurdle

26 January 2024

A week after Storm Isha wreaked havoc across the country and caused numerous jump fixture cancellations, we are treated to a phenomenal Saturday that is headed by Cheltenham’s Trials meeting.

Eight hotly anticipated contests make up a stirring card at the home of the jumps. Among them are six Graded affairs to whet the appetite and provide an abundance of clues for March’s festival, while two bigger-field handicaps offer an excellent opportunity for the longshot hunters to get involved from a punting perspective. What an afternoon we have in store.

And it’s not all about Cheltenham, either, as SBK is sponsoring numerous competitive races on talent-laden cards at Doncaster and Fairyhouse. I will come back to the former track later in this article after kicking off with my two best bets for Cheltenham, which come right at the end of the afternoon.

The Grade 2 McCoy Contractors Cleeve Hurdle (3.35 Cheltenham) has been won by Paisley Park on three occasions and Emma Lavelle’s lovable 12-year-old returns in a bid to become the only horse to win this event four times. From what we have seen so far this year he is still firing on all cylinders and you would have to be heartless not to cheer for him.

However, winning here again won't be easy as he faces a number of horses of similar ability. Dashel Drasher, who beat him two starts back in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, is among them. As is Champ, whose form ties in nicely with both of those aforementioned veterans. 

But I’m always looking for a different face in these top-level staying hurdle events and therefore I'm going to bet the 2022 Grand National winner Noble Yeats, who is having just his third run over timber as connections get him ready for another crack at Aintree’s biggest prize in the spring.

Infinite stamina and bold jumping are generally associated with this horse, but it would be foolish to say that he doesn’t have enough speed to win a race like this. Don’t forget, he won a 2m bumper in 2021 and a beginners' chase over 2m2f the following year. Mullins, who has a unique view of the programme book, gave him a spin over a totally inadequate trip over Christmas and that should have woken him up for this rich contest.

Stepping back up to 3m will help him and I love the booking of Harry Cobden, who is clearly the best jumps jockey in Britain at the moment thanks to his ability to judge pace and get his mounts to negotiate the obstacles fluently. I wouldn’t be surprised if Noble Yeats vied for favouritism on the day, so I’m keen to take the 4/1 (and bigger) available right now.

One horse who definitely will be favourite is Gidleigh Park, who looks to maintain his unbeaten record in the closing Grade 2 Classic Novices’ Hurdle (4.10 Cheltenham). Harry Fry’s scopey six-year-old beat a subsequent Grade 1-placed performer when romping home in a bumper last year and has impressed in two hurdling outings this campaign.

He didn’t have much to beat in the first of them, although the runner-up franked the form by winning next time, but he stepped up a level when disposing of a relatively strong field at Newbury recently. His jumping improved as the contest went on and I have a strong suspicion that we’re yet to see anything like the best from this horse yet. Banker material? I think so.

Let’s head over to Doncaster for the remaining two selections. First up is Ashroe Diamond, who will be one of two Willie Mullins challengers in the Grade 2 SBK Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle (2.05).

Ashroe Diamond has already proved that she’s capable of mixing it with the very best mares by winning the Grade 2 bumper at Aintree’s Grand National meeting in April 2022 and a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Fairyhouse last spring. She returned to the track in the Hatton’s Grace last month after a long absence and was far from disgraced in finishing third - the fact she ran against the boys is a good sign, let alone the result.

With race fitness on her side and regular rider Patrick Mullins on board, I expect her to beat keen stablemate Gala Marceau and follow in the hoofprints of Annie Power (2014) and Vroum Vroum Mag (2017) who have previously won this contest for the yard.

Finally, it’s worth having a long look at the SBK Great Yorkshire Handicap Chase (3.15 Doncaster) as it’s undoubtedly one of the best punting races on the day. With 18 runners and traders going 7/1 the field, there are plenty of places and each-way opportunities to take advantage of.

Cap Du Nord and Sweet Will are going to garner attention due to their connections, but their recent efforts have left a lot to be desired and I will happily swerve both of those at the prices. Instead, I’m going to have a couple of quid on the Dan Skelton-trained Sail Away, who is desperate for good ground and should finally get it here.

Sail Away boasts form figures of 2311 in four good ground chases run over 3m or 3m1f. The most recent of those came at Ayr in April where he comfortably beat the reopposing Forward Plan by 11 lengths. That rival is only 1lb better off on Saturday yet is much shorter in the market, which doesn’t make too much sense unless you believe he has improved a great deal in the interim.

Sail Away clearly needed his first run of the season when behind Kandoo Kid over an inadequate trip, and it is probably a little harsh to judge him on his recent display as half the fences were dolled off. Jumping is this horse’s forte and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him put up a much-improved effort at around 14/1.

Saturday’s Horse Racing Tips

Ashroe Diamond (2.05 Doncaster) @ 13/8
Sail Away (3.15 Doncaster) @ 18/1
Noble Yeats (3.35 Cheltenham) @ 4/1
Gidleigh Park (4.10 Cheltenham) @ Evens

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